Process mapping gets more from your CMMS

July 8, 2009
David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor, explains how to get more from your CMMS through process mapping.

Your customers seek suppliers that can consistently provide the greatest value for money in terms of quality, service delivery and price. Therefore, to stay competitive, you must strive to deliver products and services more efficiently and effectively, through a series of end-to-end processes that start and finish with the customer. Continuous process improvement helps you create value and eliminate waste as defined by the customer.

Note that processes need not directly involve end customers, such as work order management, spare parts procurement and preventive maintenance processes. However, your customers don’t wish to pay for any processes that either directly or indirectly drive costs up, increase lead times or reduce product quality. Thus, there’s potential for gaining a significant competitive edge through continuous improvement of asset management processes. This includes configuring your CMMS in support of improved processes.

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Process mapping is a technique that allows users to represent key processes graphically to more easily discuss and evaluate their effectiveness. By comparing “current state” process maps with “future state” maps, users can visualize the changes required to achieve expected savings and benefits. At a more detailed level, process maps also show how systems such as your CMMS support the process flow.

What success looks like

One of the grave mistakes many companies make in implementing or upgrading a CMMS stems from a lack of understanding priorities. The first order of business isn’t to get the system up and running, although this is all too often the key driver. Nor is organizational restructuring a good starting point, although this is a typical first step, especially when a new leader takes over an organizational unit and wants to send a message that things are going to change.


The top priority always should be defining success in the eyes of key stakeholders, both qualitatively and quantitatively. In the area of asset management, this means developing goals, objectives, performance measures and targets, and an action plan that ensures stakeholders such as maintenance, operations, engineering, IT, materials management and finance are focused on the right things. This strategic plan for asset management uses a participatory approach involving representatives from each stakeholder group.

The next step is to identify process improvement opportunities in light of the asset management plan, using a process mapping methodology. To optimize processes, determine the CMMS technical specifications required to support the new processes. The final step is to determine the organizational structure that best aligns with the new processes and supporting systems.

For example, suppose a key driver of the asset management plan is reducing response time when critical assets fail or, even better, reducing the frequency, duration and severity of failure. If critical assets are spread across remote locations, one possible process improvement might be to provide mobile devices to technicians so the one closest to the problem is dispatched more quickly. Alternatively, consider building an interface with shop-floor data collection equipment (programmable controller) for condition-based maintenance, so a maintainer is dispatched to take corrective action before a critical asset fails. Of course, either improvement idea might affect the organizational structure.

Getting there

Although process-mapping methodologies abound, look for the following key elements:

  • High stakeholder involvement relevant to each process, for more effective brainstorming and to ensure buy-in.
  • Greater emphasis on reengineering the future-state processes rather than simply tweaking current-state processes: current-state processes are useful for establishing a baseline for savings as well as developing a transition plan for moving from current to future state, however, don’t spend a lot of time developing them.
  • Focus on improvements that have the greatest effect on performance measures and targets that define success; quantify the incremental gain in moving from current to future state.
  • Internal or external IT resources knowledgeable with CMMS systems involved in process mapping to ensure stakeholders understand alternative technologies that could enable future-state process flows; develop a detailed technology spec that supports each asset management process flow proposed.
  • Thorough analysis of the effect on the organization and the skills required to address the gap between current and future states.

Process-mapping techniques

Software tools are available to build, analyze and display process maps. The most popular appears to be Microsoft Visio, but other specialized software packages have more advanced features such as process simulation capability. One of the disadvantages of process-mapping software is that it’s difficult to build or change process maps in real time during a brainstorming session. For this reason, it’s advisable to use a whiteboard, or my personal favorite when facilitating process design sessions, a wide roll of Kraft paper spread across a great big empty wall. Large, colored sticky notes can be used to record the activities, and something erasable should be used to mark the flow lines. Once the design session ends, each workflow can be recorded more accurately using process-mapping software.

When developing process maps, regardless of the software tool you select:

  • Processes should run from left to right in landscape mode, avoiding lines that cross one another. This makes it easy for users to follow the flow.
  • Layout “swim lanes” by drawing horizontal lines across the page, where each lane represents a given job title (e.g. technician, maintenance planner) or system application/database (e.g. CMMS, finance system, geographic information system).
  • Reserve the top swim lane for the customer or business partner (e.g., operations shift supervisor) to ensure there’s always a clear line of vision to the customer. Reserve the next swim lane down for the customer-interfacing job title, and so on down to the system applications/databases.
  • Use color sparingly to enhance readability (e.g., standard color for each swim lane job title).
  • Try to reduce the number of handoffs in a given process flow, i.e., moving from one swim lane to another, to minimize potential for delays and errors.
  • Standardize on shapes to represent activity type, such as square for normal task, diamond for decision box, and circle for cross-referencing another flow.
  • Wherever possible, handle exception flows via decision boxes, not a separate flow. For example, instead of having two separate process maps for internal and contract maintenance workflows, have one decision box that asks, “Will this maintenance work be contracted out?” Two flow lines emerge from the decision box, one labeled “yes” and the other “no.” This technique makes it easier to understand and analyze the process maps, as well as identify unnecessary exception flows.
  • Add quantities and/or percentages to each line emerging from a decision box to help determine savings potential for minimizing exception flows.
  • Task descriptions should be brief and use a consistent format, namely, verb, noun, prepositional phrase, for example, “approve total $ on work order” or “review inspection data for deficiencies.”
  • Use tables to avoid multiple exception flow lines, for example, variations on a given task that depends on location. This isn’t only neater, it helps highlight avoidable exceptions.

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., partner, Western Management Consultants, at [email protected].

(Editor’s note: The Plant Services CMMS/EAM Software Review, at, provides a side-by-side comparison of more than a dozen popular software packages.)

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